After emotionally draining World Cup, Gustav Svensson returns to Sounders

Gustav Svensson thumbs up at ATL

TUKWILA, Wash.— It would be an understatement to say the past few weeks have been a whirlwind for Gustav Svensson.

The midfielder has been away from the Seattle Sounders for most of the summer representing his native Sweden at the 2018 World Cup in Russia, where he helped spearhead his country’s run to the quarterfinals. After Sweden were knocked out with a 2-0 defeat to England, Svensson took a couple days to recalibrate before flying back stateside and meeting the Sounders in Atlanta for their 1-1 draw against Atlanta United on Sunday, where he made his first MLS appearance since May 13 as a second-half substitute.

On Tuesday, Svensson was finally back on the training ground with the Sounders at Starfire Sports Complex, where he spoke with reporters since the first time since he departed for Russia.

“I was empty on emotions a couple of days after [the World Cup],” Svensson said. “But I had to fly back to Atlanta so I had to find motivation again, find focus and energy. I had to. It’s my job, I have to be a professional, I have to make sure I’m 100 percent again. And I think I did that.”

Svensson and the Swedes weren’t the trendiest of picks to make a substantial run in this summer’s tournament.

They had already surpassed many expectations just by qualifying, which they did by knocking off mighty Italy in a two-leg playoff. But they managed to ride their blueprint of lockdown defense and an opportunistic offense through the group stage all the way to the World Cup quarters – a run that included a 3-0 victory over Mexico and a dramatic 1-0 triumph over Switzerland.

They also went toe-to-toe with powerhouse Germany before Toni Kroos scored one of the highlight-reel goals of the tournament off a late free kick to give the Germans a 2-1 victory. Svensson has admitted in the past that he thought his time with the national team was probably over when he signed with Seattle before last season, but by the time it was said and done, he ended up as the longest-lasting MLS player in the entire tournament.

“This summer has been great for Sweden,” he said. “Everyone is just loving soccer again. It’s been a while since we qualified for the World Cup, so doing that and going forward in the group and doing well, everyone is just talking about soccer again and loving soccer so it’s just great to be a part of that.

“It’s a bit weird to say, but for some reason it’s just soccer,” he added. “When you enter the pitch, it’s just a game like any other. It’s more before or after the game where you realize how big it is. But when you’re on the pitch fighting for your teammates and your country, it’s just the same game as the last one.”

Now, the challenge will be re-acclimating to league play coming off what is always a physically and emotionally draining tournament.

“You just have to try to adapt again to the Sounders and to MLS,” Svensson said. “You have to try to get the momentum and the flow and, hopefully, win a couple of games now. It’s hard to compare the World Cup and the league. It’s two different things. But you have to try to be a professional and do your best in the league now.”

As for any advice he had for his younger teammates upon returning for the world’s biggest stage, the dry-humored Svensson responded in his customary fashion.

“If an old man like me can make the World Cup, anyone can,” he said. “Keep working hard and hopefully I can help them to realize that everything’s possible. You don’t have to be the best soccer player in the world but you can still do great things."